Champions lay down marker of intent as senior race starts

The Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship threw-in last weekend and across the eight games played in the four groups, there were plenty of talking points.

In group one, both Ballina Stephenites and Mayo Gaels put down markers of intent with vital victories. The north Mayo men were one point winners over a gallant Breaffy side on the road, coming back from being a point down with with not long left, after Aidan O'Shea scored his sixth point of the day - but three quickfire points from Ciaran Boland and a brace from Evan Regan saw Ballina claim the points, with Matthew Ruane's late effort for a goal flying over the bar to cut the gap back to one before the final whistle went. Both sides will have plenty of learnings to take from the game as they head into round two, with it still all to play for for both sides in terms of qualification from the group.

In the other game in the group, the hotly anticipated local derby between Mayo Gaels and Balla in Abbey Park went the way of the homeside, who scored a famous six-point win that saw them cheered off into the dressing rooms by the home faithful at full time. From start to finish, the Gaels were the dominant side in this contest, with Paul McGarry's side led on the scoring front by John Gallagher (0-8, 6f ) and Jack Fallon (0-3 ). They hit a scoring purple patch in the first half, registering ten points in the opening half hour, leading 0-10 to 0-6, with Gary McHale's accuracy from dead balls keeping Balla in the contest. Balla did close it back to a three-point contest in the second half, but fortune favoured the hard-working home outfit who were able to stretch out their lead down the home straight.

In group two, Westport were in no mood for taking things easy against Charlestown and put the east Mayo men to the sword in an impressive display, running out 3-20 to 0-6 winners in St Patrick's Park. Colm Moran hit 1-4 for Martin Connolly's side with the impressive Eoghan McLaughlin bagging 1-1 and Finbar McLaughlin getting their third goal late on, while Lee Keegan and Mark Moran both chipped in with 0-3 each in an impressive display.

The second game in the group saw Ballaghaderreen pick up a vital win in Cannon Gibbons Park against Claremorris on a score of 0-13 to 0-10. Kuba Callaghan was the main man on the scoreboard registering seven points over the hour, while Dylan Feeney chipped in with three, along with a brace from Sharoize Akram and a single from Cian Hanley. Mark Maloney and Adam Beirne kept Claremorris in touch with three points each - but they were left pointless when the final whistle went and now face into a must-win game against Charlestown on the road in round two, while Ballaghaderreen will be hosting the defending champions next up.

It was tough and tight in Tallagh in group three, where Belmullet and Garrymore battled it out right to the end in a thrilling encounter that went the way of the homeside by the tightest of margins when all was said and done. Kieran Conway was the hero for the Erris men, with the sub kicking the winning score in injury time to see his side over the line on a score of 1-7 to 1-6. Ryan O'Donoghue kicked 1-3 for the victors, with Ronan Murray getting 0-2 while Darren Quinn was impressive for the visitors, bagging 1-1 and Garry Golden and Colin Commins getting two points each for Garrymore.

Ballintubber showed plenty of grit and determination to see off The Neale in a windswept Cong on Sunday lunchtime, with 14 men for the second half, after Cillian O'Connor was shown a straight red card just before the break. The sides were level at four points each, but in the second half they outscored their hosts by 1-9 to 0-1, with Jason Gibbons showing once again why he is one the best in the business still at this level, bagging 1-1 and putting in an overall impressive display with Ciaran Gavin and Stephen O'Malley both kicking three points each along the way.

The big game of the weekend was the meeting of Knockmore and Castlebar Mitchels in St Joseph's Park in group four and it was honours even when all was said and done with the sides locked level on nine points each at full time. Both sides had fallow periods on the scoreboard in the game, which saw Knockmore lead 0-5 to 0-2 at the break. But Mitchels found their groove in the second half and they led by two heading into the final five minutes; but points from Darren McHale and Liam Durkin levelled it up at the conclusion. McHale scored three points for his side with Conell Dempsey chipping in with a brace, while for Mitchels, Ethan Gibbons and Anthony O'Boyle were their top scorers with two points each.

It was honours even in the final game of the weekend which was also in group four, where Aghamore and last year's intermediate champions, Ballyhaunis, couldn't be separated at the end on a score of 0-9 to 1-6. Tom O'Flaherty was the hero for the hosts, arcing over a fine point to level the game up at the end. Aghamore had a penalty late on before O'Flaherty's score from Liam Lavin which was saved by Adrian Phillips and even though Lavin tucked away the rebound, he was pinged for over-carrying by referee Vincent Neary. Patrick Keily got the goal for Ballyhaunis, with Eamonn Phillips kicking four points over the hour, while Liam Lavin, Adam Byrne and Darren Duffy were the top scorers for Aghamore, with all three registering two points each during the contest.

The action in the championship will take a break this weekend, with the second round down for decision over the following weekend, after which we'll have a clearer picture of what sides are really in the running for the title and who'll be battling it out to avoid the relegation play-offs.


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